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(Copyright 1992) From the Jerusalem Post


 Professional women from the CIS have been matched with women of similar backgrounds to aid their absorption. Box at end of text.

DURING Pessah 1990, Judy Feierstein sat at her kitchen table in Jerusalem, engrossed in reading about the wave of Russian immigration; she was surprised to learn that 11-13 percent of the newcomers were single mothers.

From her experience as a social worker and supervisor in the Schwartz Program for Training Senior Staff in Community Centers at the Hebrew University, Feierstein knew these women had an excellent chance of becoming dependent on the welfare system. When she read that many of the single mothers also came with their own parents, whom the single mothers had to support, lights began flashing.

A career counselor by profession, Feierstein began researching the issue.

She learned that 40-60 percent of the single Russian mothers had academic degrees and some had skills unheard of in Israel.

Who would hire a female mining engineer in Jerusalem, she wondered, or a metallurgist whose expertise is in translating technical material about corrosives from German into Russian? In her desire to help this population which had the potential to be either an asset to, or a drain on, Israel's economy, Feierstein wrote up a project proposal, entitled, "Women's Career Mentoring Project (WCMP)."

Her idea was classic in its simplicity: Match up a professional immigrant single mother with an Israeli woman in the same or similar field who can act as a mentor to the newcomer.

She submitted the proposal to the Joint Distribution Committee (Israel), which supports and evaluates pilot projects. The JDC snapped up Feierstein's proposal and gave her the financial backing to carry out Stage One. The pilot project, with 20 Russian proteges and 20 Israeli mentors, lasted eight months, two months longer than intended, due to the Gulf war.

It met with fabulous success: within six months of its conclusion, 13 of the 20 immigrants were employed in their professions, seven were undergoing retraining, and 16 of the "couples" continued to be good friends. "It was just a nice little ol' idea," Feierstein reminisced last week in Jerusalem.

RECENTLY, THE JDC brought her over from the US, where the family is on assignment as Israeli emissaries, to run a three-day training seminar for project directors who will implement the mentoring project in cooperation with the Israel Association of Community Centers, in 10 community centers throughout the country.

In the original enterprise in 1990 with the JDC's support Feierstein had chosen the 20 Russian immigrant women who fit her criteria. She received names of single mothers from the Zionist Forum and absorption workers in local community centers. Out of more than 50 women she interviewed, the 20 she chose were all the sole breadwinners in their families, between the ages of 25 and 40, and holders of an academic degree, with experience in the field of expertise.

All the single mothers were ulpan graduates, potentially employable, and expressed a willingness to be mentored.

To locate the mentors, Feierstein placed ads in local newspapers and turned to local women's organizations, large companies and the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. She "marketed" the chosen Russian women and asked the potential mentors for a six-month volunteer commitment.

One fourth of the mentors chosen were themselves single mothers. All were working women "with a clear career who had reflected on their professional identity," Feierstein explains. They lived reasonably close to the new immigrants.

After the 40 women were identified and matched according to professions, Feierstein began conducting a series of modular meetings to suit the needs of each group. Once a week, she led workshops for the new immigrant women in subjects ranging from networking to birth control.

She taught the Russian women - who were used to day care until 7 p.m. in their native land - about working mothers in Israel, the educational system, career planning, and rights of single mothers and working women.

She taught them techniques of stress management, brought in an image consultant who advised them how to dress for their job interviews, taught them how to write resumes and role-played job interviews with them. She also showed them how to decipher an Israeli pay slip. All these subjects were totally new to the immigrants.

Once a month, Feierstein led group-supervision sessions for the mentors. She supported them in their task and encouraged them to aid in the informal socializing of the Russian mothers and their families. Often Feierstein met with each pair of women to help iron out difficulties caused by cultural misunderstanding. For the entire group of 40 women, she organized a workshop in cross-cultural understanding.

'All the mentors came through," she asserts. "They were enriched by the relationship, both personally and culturally. They saw mentoring as a challenge, rather than a burden," Feierstein says proudly, "and enjoyed it."

FEIERSTEIN HERSELF learned a lot about Russian values through her project. For example, many new immigrants couldn't believe that anyone really wanted to volunteer to help them, because in Russia "volunteerism" is compulsory and synonymous with attending Communist meetings.

The Russian women were also amazed to learn that your appearance matters when you go for a job interview. And Feierstein had to field late-night emergency phone calls from troubled new immigrants. "What does passive mean?" one protege asked. That day her mentor had told her she was too passive when customers came in the store. The protege had no idea she was supposed to actively engage customers, because in Russia the concept of salesmanship doesn't exist.

Another protege couldn't understand that her mentor, a single mother of four, really thought mothering was more important than work. "Is it true, Judy?" she asked Feierstein in disbelief.

But more than anything else, Feierstein learned about vision: "You can change things and make a difference," she says, almost surprised herself by the success of the project. "You can influence and contribute on a grand scale," she repeats, proud that her "little ol' idea" is being reproduced around the country for the benefit of some of the 15,000 Russian single-parent families.

'Jewish lives are not closed circuits'

FOUR of the protege-mentor couples who participated in the first stage of the "Women's Career Mentoring Project" of the JDC had an opportunity to say thank you to some of those who made the project possible.

On June 16, at Jerusalem's Bible Lands Museum, 90 participants in the UJA Women's Division Campaign chairmen and directors mission from the US heard moving testimonies from the Israeli-Russian pairs at a festive dinner and fashion show.

Svetlana Goldis, who came from Moscow in 1990, who now teaches English and Russian as foreign languages at the Open University in Jerusalem, said, "It is very important to have people be with you when you feel good and when you feel bad - and when you feel in between ... I got a sister and a family from this project."

She was referring to Sheila Shaneberg of the Hebrew University's English Department, who acted as Svetlana's mentor for eight months.

"This program is a program with heart," asserted Gillian Dan, an ophthalmologist and owner of Optic Mabat in Jerusalem, who mentored and trained Bella Zalman Yonaek, who is now working in an optical shop.

The highlight of the evening was a fashion show put on by Ester Merzel, owner of the Gypsy Boutique in Jerusalem, and her protege Sophie Maldovsky, a fashion designer from Lvov.
Merzel described their relationship as "a real partnership."

Women participating in the UJA mission modeled the silk, linen and chiffon dresses, suits and jackets designed by Merzel/Maldovsky. The clothes combine Maldovsky's classical European training with Merzel's "funky" background. All the items are sewn by two Russian seamstresses, also single mothers, who work in the shop on the Nahlat Shiva mall.

"Many people ask why I agreed to be a mentor," Merzel confided to the audience. "When I was a little girl in Houston, Texas, in 1948, my parents adopted a family of survivors from Auschwitz. Eventually, the man went into business with my father. I guess there is a basic premise that, no matter how busy we are with our own work and family, Jewish lives are not closed circuits."

The American Jewish women leaders will be learning about other projects supported by their funds during their one-week mission.

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